A Chappy Farewell

There are places you remember all your life, though some have changed.

The truth is that she was never ours. She belonged to her youth – to those that conceived her. Her first loves. We were only placeholders, the rebound lovers meant to keep her warm until her new beau arrived. 

We were (are) Woodgers. She was (is) the Marshall Camp – “the Big Camp.” Her inception was borne of dynamic thinking and enthusiastic work. Sailors, hunters, sportsmen, craftsmen were her kind. Woodgers were none of these. Woodgers were something, sure, but not the something that could hold her attention, keep her vital. We were just there – descendants inheriting a treasure they could not keep. 

Jocelyn Filley

Only days before her sale, I was in the ocean – her ocean – treading water and looking back and up to the house. The front porch. The porch swing. The lichen-spotted rocks of her step walls. I remembered a time long ago, sitting on those masonry steps, kissing a girl. The prick of mosquitos on neck and hands, the night fog wet in hair, the green buoy keeping the beat of the ocean in time with our breath (or so it seemed). But now the image was harder to imagine, spoiled by adult purpose and unfulfilled promise. Now I saw the remnants of a tenant’s efforts to dissuade the swallows from the porch eaves – scraps of chicken wire stretched across the creases frequented by nests. Now I saw the steady, unrelenting work of the Atlantic – the breaches in the bulkhead, the scarred and scoured bluff. The romance had worn at first thin and then to only a whisper of itself, slight and fragile.

She is an acquired taste, not the one all think of as pretty. She is more Katharine than Audrey Hepburn – rolled-up jeans and wool sweaters worn at the elbows. Few actually fall in love with her rough-hewn heart, but those that do fall hard. Still, the magnitude of needs tends to temper that love, or at least give pause to the thought of union.

She was never intended as a home, but more as a shelter from the elements. Her people lived as much outside of her as inside. Her surroundings became as much a part of her as any table, bed, or stove. Thus the conundrum of her value – wouldn’t any port in a storm do? If her greatest assets lay outside her walls, why keep her at all? Yet there was an answer to her puzzle, one that was only known to a few. She belonged there. And nowhere else. Like the tomboy whose appeal existed only in a limited environment, she had found her place in the world. And just as this tomboy would feel horribly out of place at an uptown Manhattan party, so too would any attempted facsimile of her feel awkward on her bluff. She may be replaceable but never replicated. 

Jocelyn Filley

Frank and Molly knew this. As did Bob and Ruth, and Ham and Mary. And her select long-term tenants: the Warrens, the Halls, the Bennetts, and the Flights. They loved her like a parent loves a child, recognizing her faults and loving her all the more for them.

The Woodgers knew this too. But she needed more than they/we could give. Her need was not capricious or extravagant or full of conceit, but borne of a simple need for survival. So we let her go. Finally. To a family that embraced her – that not only desired to maintain her, but knew how to do it. The Fonda to her Hepburn. 

I visited her this December as her out buildings were demolished. She stood there stoic, face in the wind and frost on her sides. I searched for traces of our time with her, and they were there, though maybe only noticeable to us. The Marshall Camp. The Big Camp. In love again.

Jocelyn Filley


Comments (15)

Lindsay allison
Lovely,Brad. And, just right.
March 22, 2017 - 9:25pm
Mimi Bennett
So lovely ... and all of us that were there share this memory in our own ways. Mimi Bennett
March 22, 2017 - 9:50pm
This makes me want to cry!
March 29, 2017 - 11:33am
Atkinson, NH
My heart aches. So beautifully written.
April 5, 2017 - 9:11am
Barnett greenfield
If you love it, let it go
April 5, 2017 - 1:06pm
Manchester, CT
We all long for the good old days and the fun summers growing up. You captured this so well.
April 5, 2017 - 1:14pm
Colleen McGuire
Madison, Ct
Beautifully written. I was smitten with Martha's Vineyard 15 years ago. Blessed to visit once or twice a year. A deeply respectful visitor who loves the island so much I cry every time I leave her. I cannot imagine nor will I ever know giving up what you describe so lovingly. It's like losing a person. My deepest sympathy for your loss & my thanks for sharing such a beautiful tribute. Many blessings to all of you & to her new owners.
April 5, 2017 - 1:29pm
M Breesie
West Tisbury
So many lovely memories of the big camp. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this...
April 5, 2017 - 4:43pm
George Brown
Denver, Colorado
First, a wonderful, warm-hearted piece, Brad. You made me feel as though I was on the doorstep...Our family spent summers on Chappy from the early '60s to the mid '70s. I sent this article to my sisters, and we're wondering where this magnificent home is located. Does it overlook Pogue Pond by an chance? Many thanks for a beautifully written tribute : )
April 5, 2017 - 5:31pm
ralph braun
iang mai thailand
yeah i remember that huge roof and how we laid floors in some of the rooms while redoing the roof and the rain coming through had to be caught in tarpaulins stretched at eye level to keep the new floors being laid dry and already back then i could see that while it was a great place it held you back from the life you were aspiring by pressing you into a mould that wasn't's always good to move forward- i hope all works out well for you now.
April 7, 2017 - 9:17pm
You missed your calling Brad. Perfect.
April 8, 2017 - 6:00pm
Thank you Brad. Some of our family's most memorable days were shared with friends in her embrace (and your devoted care) All the best!
April 22, 2017 - 12:38pm
Amy Ray (Joanie Hall's sister)
Ft. Wayne, IN
Blessed to have so many cherished memories of our summers at Big Camp!!
April 22, 2017 - 6:02pm
Suzanne Lecoq
Chappaquiddick ( up the hill )
Beautiful, beautiful pictures & commentary of the big camp we know & love so well. So much love, happiness & childhood memories to cherish-forever. Thank goodness she's found a new love to care for her so she can continue to reign in all her rustic beauty for as long as mother nature & the ocean will allow.
October 20, 2019 - 8:42am
Leonor Juhl Kristiansson
Lovely written! I dont know if You remember me Brad, but I visited both Big Camp and Grammies cottage several times. ( think her dogs name was Chucko and Allie?) Beautiful memories to hold on to! I’m Anna Amazeens sister. I was actually googling Big Camp to se if I could find it and if it was possible to rent. But now I read about the new owners. Hope everything is well! Take care, Leonor
January 21, 2020 - 12:40pm